Film Review | Being the Ricardos (2021)

Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) looks into Desi Arnaz's (Javier Bardem) eyes, her hands on his shoulders.

There’s always something distant about biopics like Being the Ricardos. Obviously there is; it’s only a reconstruction, after all, and that sort of simulation is always going to position the audience at a certain level of remove. But there’s something about Being the Ricardos in particular that exacerbates that sense, giving the whole film a sort of detached feel throughout.

On one level, that’s surprising. The Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz biopic is both written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, and arguably he’s spent his whole career building to something like this. He’s best known as creator of The West Wing, yes, or writer of films like The Social Network and The Trial of the Chicago 7, but he’s got a long background in comedy too. His first television show was sitcom Sports Night, a workplace comedy about a sports news show, which he later followed with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a comedy-drama about the production of an SNL type show. Even then, The West Wing was always much funnier than it was ever politically incisive anyway – so on the fact of it, Sorkin tackling this story doesn’t not make sense.

But in practice it still doesn’t quite cohere. One common problem with biopics is that they’re too reverent, too starstruck by their subject, but Being the Ricardos seems to suffer the opposite problem. Watching it, it’s hard to tell what Sorkin actually likes about I Love Lucy or its leads – he’s obviously impressed by Ball’s talent as a producer, but it’s less clear that that he actually enjoys the programme she made.

I really like Sorkin as a writer – in terms of style if not content, I suppose – but I wasn’t massively keen on Being the Ricardos. You wonder what it was about this story that made him want to bother particularly; watching it, it’s clearly not any sort of affection or appreciation for Ball as a creative figure.

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